An envelope arrived at my desk today.
No, this envelope was not ambulatory. More precisely – it arrived by way of a shadowy figure in my peripheral vision, not unlike the way in which I imagine the fuzz will one day show up to hold me accountable for my movements on White-Collar Purgatory. (They’ll arrive three-abreast, resplendent in their dark suits and black sunglasses, holding big lasery-looking weapons. No, wait – now I’m just thinking about Men In Black. Never mind.)
The shadowy figure arrived and said nothing. It stood there as I struggled to regain control of my heart rate, continuing to stare motionless at my computer screen but frantically taking mental inventory of the possible escape routes around me. (Maybe I can book it for the kitchen and take my chances slinking behind a counter. No, wait – now I’m just thinking about Jurassic Park. Never mind.)
Resigned to whatever grim fate lay before me, I turned to face the figure. It grunted and thrust an envelope in my direction.
Upon my cautious extraction of the package from its claws, the figure wheeled around and clopped away, evidently allowing me to live (or live free) another day.
And now I’m sitting here, examining this curious specimen.
The first thing you should know is that to the envelope is appended a standard 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of (premium) white copy paper. The appendage is accomplished by way of rather festive paper clip, if I may say so (lime green!). On the paper are printed the following:
- A tasteful but unceremonious (11-pt Calibri font, as is Microsoft Word’s wont) transcription of the names of the 20ish constituent members of my department, save one (an omission that you’ll soon come to understand). Above this is the following, replicated for your objective evaluation:
- Hi all!
As you probably know by now, Susan is leaving us to pursue an opportunity in another department. Booooo! Kidding aside, we wish her all the best and wanted to send her off in style. You know the drill. PS. Please ensure this envelope is locked away or returned to Jennifer at the end of the day.
My first thought is that to suggest that there is only one ‘drill’ with which I’m familiar implies not only a fairly insulting underestimation of my worldly experience, but also an unwarranted confidence that the (sole) drill I know is the same one that the issuer of this communication has in mind. A less refined man might take this as a cue to make haste for the staircase, lest he be engulfed in flames. Or perhaps to don his short-shorts and line up to practise his layups, in an if-you-say-so hearkening back to his high-school basketball days. (A truly under-equipped reader might not be familiar with this meaning of the word ‘drill’ at all, left instead to wonder what his knowledge of power tools has to do with anything.)
But let the record show that I happen to be well versed in a multitude of drills, with the uncanny ability to correctly identify the appropriate variety, most of the time.
So it is that I understand the following:
The various names on this sheet of paper that have been struck through by jagged pen markings are not evidence that some disgruntled past colleague is in the process of successfully knocking us all off, one at a time.
The shadowy figure from whom I received this package selected me at least partly on the basis that my name has not yet been struck through. (Beyond that, though, I have no idea how it chose me from among the untarnished contingent. At a minimum, I have to assume that either this creature harbors no secret crush for any of our department members, or that said crush is among those whose names have already been eliminated from contention. Otherwise, the crushee would have been the sure target of the figure’s delivery… And to suggest that perhaps I am the object of desire seems unlikely, because… wait. Really??? I had absolutely no idea. Aww, you guys!)
I am meant to retrieve whatever mass-produced Hallmark embodiment of our unique appreciation for Susan lies inside this elegant ivory envelope, and add to it my effusive sentiments of goodwill before scratching my (paper-borne) earthly moniker into oblivion. It strikes me that if ever there was a way to demonstrate a singular gratitude for time spent with someone, surely a ritual repeated ad infinitum – whose participants “know the drill” – wherein a series of unoriginal inscriptions are made in a million-of-a-kind document produced by a company who collects upwards of $4 billion per annum to enable this sort of thing is it.
Oh, and there’s the matter of the money.
Corporate policy dictates that our department is afforded a king’s ransom of $25 to procure some form of gift with which to cement Susan’s fond memories of us. It happens that, somewhere along the way, someone realized that going to a movie alone and being forced to choose between seeing that movie in 3D or having a drink with her popcorn was probably not going to be enough to earn the departing colleague’s eternal gratitude. It’s for this reason that a proverbial hat, for monetary supplementation of Susan’s symbolic worth to us, is hereby circulated alongside this nonpareil Hallmark greeting.
It is my suspicion that, for most of whom are placed in this position, the matter of settling upon the magnitude of discretionary contribution to the envelope-as-hat is a dilemma of some strategic and ethical intricacy. To wit, there are a number of (competing, in some cases) considerations that must be weighed: financial means, propensity toward frugality, appreciation for Susan, concern for Susan’s emotional welfare, likelihood of judgment by other parties and proclivity to care about same, to name but a few.
The first recipient of the card-envelope-paper combo (hot off the presses, of Jennifer’s volition) faces a particularly acute set of potential consequences. Naturally, the next person to receive the card will be able to ascertain, with 100% confidence, what contribution was made by that first party. I cannot confidently predict (nor recommend) what course of action is to be taken in such circumstance, but presumably the chosen deposit will be positively correlated with: how “awesome” Susan is, the decider’s income and inclination toward generosity, the desire to impress the next person to handle the card, and the number of fucks that the contributor in question has left to give.
The second recipient of the card is confronted with a fairly similar set of circumstances, albeit without the looming prospect of guaranteed ‘outing’ by the next party in line. All else equal, this person has the option of contributing zero, with reasonably little risk of having that secret revealed to anybody. (Of course, if Contributor Three should happen to bump into Contributor One in the coffee room and comment on the amount of currency found in the envelope upon receipt, Contributor One will know the precise size of Contributor Two’s deposit. An unlikely scenario, perhaps, but one that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.) If this second recipient is comfortable with the next person assuming that she and Contributor One each contributed half of what Contributor One actually deposited, she may well settle on a big fat zilch. Onward.
Down the line, the probability of a particular contributor’s donation being deduced becomes increasingly remote, but an interesting thing happens concurrently. As the bundle nears the end of the line – which is to say, the list of untarnished names dwindles – the holder of the card becomes progressively more aware of poor Susan’s emerging fate. By this point, anything could have happened: if Susan is a real salt-of-the-earth joy to be around, the average donation per prior contributor may be very healthy indeed. Conversely, if she’s a raging lunatic who is disproportionately the subject of conversation in her absence, the situation could be more awkward. More likely, she’s somewhere in the middle and the current size of the pool depends primarily on what has transpired in the series of individual games of solitary strategy having already taken place (in which, still, anything could have happened).
So the contributor at this stage, while less concerned with having his own donation surmised, must now weigh the various other factors still at play (financial means, etc.) against the emotional impact that he wishes for this process to have on sweet Susan. Once again I’m in a position to make neither a prediction nor a recommendation, but the amount to be ponied up seems likely to vary in proportion to the measure of happiness that Current Contributor wants for Susan.
The last person to receive the bundle, prior to its return to Jennifer (who will coordinate gift purchase and delivery of the whole shebang to Susan at the lunch scheduled in her honor – 11:45 next Tuesday at Chili’s; don’t be late), will be all but hamstrung by the actions of those before her. By now you understand the various factors that will influence her decision and may have correctly inferred that, for better or worse, the fact that Susan’s fate is already sealed makes this person the most likely of all to add nothing to the hat. Susan’s already getting a new iPod? Fuck it – we’re good. Susan’s getting a measly gift card to Chapters? Oh well – nothing I can do about it.
Inspecting the bundle in my possession, I consider first the number and the identities of the names remaining un-struck, then the contents of the envelope, concluding with a quick survey of the greetings scrawled hastily into the card. (I count 4 all-the-bests, 6 congrats!, 3 we’ll-miss-yous, 2 good-lucks and 1 instance of personalized, original thought. I pause in deliberation of whether this latter inscriber is a) insane, b) secretly dating Susan – that would be juicy – or c) compensating for the guilt of having put zero cash in the envelope. I settle on ‘a’ because, I mean, who does that?)
I will not specify how much currency I’ve added to the envelope, nor what its particular contents were when I received it, because to do so would be wholly improper.
I contemplate what message I ought to leave for Susan, wanting her to understand that I believe her to have been a fine contributor to our team, but that the matter of taking up collection for a tangible reflection of that fact is fraught with complexity.
Seeing no other option allowing me to convey these sentiments with due respect, I settle on a concise “see attached”, then print out this essay and staple it to the envelope.
All the best, Susan.
Shameless self-promotion: don’t forget to ‘like’, comment, subscribe, follow, share, retweet, phone a friend, send a postcard, laugh out loud, kiss a baby, and generally revel in the augmentation of your bathroom reading material.